After a day out at sea and three hours spent fighting a tournament-winning marlin, the crew of the Citation didn’t anticipate what would come next: a two-and-a-half-year legal battle over nearly $1 million in prize winnings.
On the first day of the 52nd annual Big Rock Blue Marline Tournament in Morehead City, North Carolina in June 2012, Citation‘s team thought they had struck gold (and instant green) with a 883-pound blue marlin. Because it was the first blue marlin caught in the tourney to weigh more than 500 pounds, the crew qualified for an instant $318,750 in prize money. Nobody else caught a bigger marlin throughout the six-day tournament and so the crew was poised to receive $912,825 in total prize money.
They never got it.
Tournament officials disqualified the crew because one member, Peter Wann of Alexandria, Virginia, 22, had not purchased his North Carolina fishing license before hopping aboard Citation. Wann had believed that the boat had a blanket license that covered everybody onboard and had not attended a pre-tournament meeting where it was stressed that everybody onboard a participating vessel must have a valid fishing license, as tournament rules state.
Citation‘s captain, Eric Holmes of Buxton, was also not present at the meeting and he was unaware that Wann did not have a fishing license. Once the crew found out they needed both a recreational fishing license and highly-migratory species fishing permit, they used an onboard laptop computer with internet connection to purchase Wann the licenses. Wann’s transaction was effective at 5:51 p.m. on June 14, 2010, but the fish had been caught at 10 a.m. earlier that day.
When they weren’t awarded the money because of the decision taken by tournament officials, the crew, which included Capt. Holmes, Wann, Michael Topp, Duncan Thomasson, and Martin Kooyman, filed suit against Big Rock Tournament officials citing breach of contract for not being awarded the money. The case went to Superior Court in Beaufort on March 14, 2011 and the judge ruled in favor of Big Rock officials. Shortly afterward, participating tournament vessels Carnivore and Wet-N-Wild were elevated to first and second place status, respectively, earning the crews some prize money.
The fishermen appealed the decision and an appellate judge ruled in favor of the anglers, saying that the rule Wann broke did not give Citation a competitive edge and was not significant enough to warrant disqualification, according to the Charlotte Observer.
The case has moved all the way up to the North Carolina Supreme Court as of Tuesday, where cases are still being heard. Big Rock and an attorney for the fishermen declined comment on the case since it is still ongoing. It is not clear when the Supreme Court may rule on the matter.